On record: Sounds so true that they almost hurt, sounds so old that they seem like new

Beethoven Leonore Soloists, Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique / John Eliot Gardiner DG Archiv 453 461-2
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It's a bit mean to complain, I suppose. After all, the original 1805 version of Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio, does stretch to a whole extra act and several "new" numbers not heard in the standard 1814 score. Yet, listening to Gardiner's new period-instrument recording, I am left with a Leonora-like sense of loss. So many of the score's greatest moments have, like Florestan himself, been "disappeared".

Where, you wonder, is Leonora's courage-screwing "Abscheulicher!", her husband's angelic dungeon delirium? The Prisoners have lost their farewell to the sunlight, the finale its joyous salute to the new day of freedom. And what have we gained? A blustery Pantomime villain set-piece for Pizarro, a few jolly additions to the domestic comedy of Act 1 - mainly serving to emphasise the first score's debts to The Magic Flute.

The biggest gain of all is also the biggest loss: in place of the original spoken dialogue, there's a new set of spoken links - one part Holderlin to two parts Heiligenstadt Testament - archly delivered, in high Teutonic style, by the actor Christoph Bantzer. An odd kind of authenticity this, that claims to be recapturing the spontaneity of the original, while trying to reinject some of the dramatic weight of the revision via an anachronistic and intrusive commentary.

That said, the cast, led by Hillevi Martinpelto and Kim Begley, rise heroically to the challenges of this lighter, more Mozartian score, while chorus and orchestra unite in delivering some truly revolutionary old sounds.

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